Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A tech geek among the humanists

This week's chronicle brings an interesting article by an English professor who actually likes technology. He actually touches on nearly every aspect of my job and I'm e-mailing the article to nearly everyone I work with.

First, he discusses the importance of a professional and up-to-date web site for departments. The summer multimedia program usually redesigns 5 or so department websites every summer and we help the department secretaries learn how to maintain the sites afterwards. The missing ingredient for us is often the content. The faculty chairs are often slow to provide relevant content. As Benton suggests, having an actual faculty member do this means they have more of a vested interest in the content. Here's the money quote: "A sloppy, out-of-date departmental Web site suggests a badly managed, individualistic, and probably dysfunctional department."

Second, he talks about developing online courses in a liberal arts college. Although nothing like that is being developed at our school, I do have a handful of science faculty trying out screencasting this summer and in the fall, either as a way to get the lectures out of the classroom and use class time more effectively or to provide more opportunity for review of the material.

Third, he discusses the use of computer grading, emphasizing that grading papers is not always the best use of a faculty members' time, especially for early papers that often have similar mistakes. He suggests too that students could review each others' papers for common mistakes, so that the paper is in better shape by the time it reaches the professor's desk or inbox. This goes right along with the grant-funded workshop I'm working on this summer. We're evaluating ways of marking student papers that are more effective, going back actually to the assignment itself and constructing a good assignment to begin with and using peer review and other strategies to help students with drafts.

These all fit perfectly I think with the mission of the liberal arts college and are ways to use faculty time more effectively--for teaching and research. He did not mention whether there are staff supporting him or not. He mentions html skills, but do they have good web designers/developers on staff? Is there an instructional technologist around who will assist with the design of the online course? Does he talk to his IT staff about the software and infrastructure needed to accomplish his goals? I think he's right on the money with everything he's trying to do, but it would be interesting to know how much help he gets, if any.